March 27, 2023

LEVIN | The Fall of the House of Dickson

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“It was a dark and soundless day near the end of the year, and clouds were hanging low in the heavens. All day I had been riding on horseback through country with little life or beauty; and in the early evening I came within view of the House of Usher. I do not know how it was — but, with my first sight of the building, a sense of heavy sadness filled my spirit. I looked at the scene before me — at the house itself — at the ground around it — at the cold stone walls of the building — at its empty eye-like windows — and at a few dead trees — I looked at this scene, I say, with a complete sadness of soul which was no healthy, earthly feeling. There was a coldness, a sickening of the heart, in which I could discover nothing to lighten the weight I felt.”

I was reading the opening lines to “The Fall of the House of Usher” the other day and thought, sounds like living in Clara Dickson Hall. The coldness that Poe describes is a combination of winter in Ithaca and the failing radiators stained with rust. Rumor has it that Poe wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart” about the crazy incessant thumping coming from Dickson’s outdated baseboard heaters. The paint peeling off of the walls, the asbestos, the excrement from frequent mice infestations — all of that wafting through the air surely causes what Poe calls “a sickening of the heart…”

In the evening, a student’s eerie piano playing reverberates throughout the thin walls of the building. Within those walls, frenzied mice burrow into the insulation. Occasionally, mice tear through the plaster and escape into bedrooms, startling students working at their desks. I’ve seen panicked freshmen rush out of their dorms and phone maintenance begging, crying and screaming for the exterminator. To make matters worse, severe overcrowding and bedrooms without overhead lighting in the largest and most decrepit dormitory in the Ivy League is why “with my first sight of the building, a sense of heavy sadness filled my spirit.”

“[A] complete sadness of soul…” is how I would describe the experience of using Dickson’s basement self-service laundry. On a good day, half of the dryers are out of order and the rest are in use. So students wait like vultures to dry their wet clothes. The instant any timer expires and a dryer stops its tumbling, there’s someone who will snatch a stranger’s freshly dried garments out of the machine, throw them on the folding table, and stuff theirs in. Verbal spats and physical brawls have broken out when a student returning to retrieve their clothes from a dryer catches one of their peers in the act of replacement. “I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy!” I witnessed one apoplectic freshman exclaim to another before a melee ensued. “Let’s be gentlemen and take this over there.” It was too cold to fight outside, so they held their skirmish next to the junk food vending machine instead. 

Like the House of Usher, Dickson has seen better days. I’m thankful my prayers were answered, and I’ll be moving elsewhere next semester. For the sake of future generations of undergraduates, I hope that the administration razes this haunted house to the ground and constructs something habitable in its place. 

Gabriel Levin is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Almost Fit to Print runs every other Monday this semester.